8 universities make up the Ivy League. Their reputation for excellence and privilege spreads across the globe. Here's what you need to know.
Where does the name come from? Some people think that Ivy is actually a misnomer and the league was originally called the ‘IV League’ because it consisted of four schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth. But the most common explanation of the name is that these are amongst the oldest universities in the US and had ivy-covered buildings.
One of the key factors that distinguishes the Ivy League from other universities is their extremely competitive admissions. To be awarded a degree from one of these institutions is culturally recognised as a guarantee that an individual is highly motivated and ambitious.
Here are the eight U.S universities that make up the Ivy League, plus their acceptance rates:
- Harvard University: 4.5%
- Columbia University: 5.1%
- Yale University: 5.9%
- Princeton University: 5.8%
- Brown University: 6.6%
- University of Pennsylvania: 7.4%
- Dartmouth College: 7.9%
- Cornell University: 10.6%
Part of the reason why the Ivy League universities can continue to be as selective as they are is that they boast generations of internationally recognised alumni. Obama went to Columbia for his undergraduate and then completed his graduate degree at Harvard. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are also alumni of Harvard, a school famous for its top programs in law, medicine and business.
As college expert Allen Chang suggests, because their students are admitted on account of them being “more insightful, more creative, more driven, more passionate, more competent” than other students, as an undergraduate one is surrounded for four years with exceptionally inspiring students - one of the biggest benefits of attending these institutions.
Although these universities have some of the more expensive tuition fees in the US (ranging somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 per year), thanks to their large endowments they can offer students very supportive financial aid packages. For example, Harvard states that:
“Once you are admitted to Harvard, we work closely with your family to ensure you can afford to come here. Because we seek the best students regardless of their ability to pay, we are committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for all four years.”
At Harvard, around 20% of families pay nothing.
While the kudos one earns attending one of these schools is indisputable, many other lesser-known universities offer a highly impressive quality of education. A paradox of studying at an Ivy League is that the academics teaching the undergraduates are often world leading scholars, meaning that many are more motivated by their research than teaching undergraduates. So one might have a better experience at a smaller selective school (a good example is a Liberal Arts College like Sarah Lawrence or Pomona College) where the professors are there primarily to teach undergraduates.
In Gregg Easterbrook’s article, entitled ‘Who needs Harvard?’, for The Atlantic, he states that : “Many college officials I interviewed said approximately the same thing: that a generation or two ago it really was a setback if a top student didn't get admitted to an Ivy or one of a few other elite destinations, because only a small number of places were offering a truly first-rate education. But since then the non-elites have improved dramatically.”
"Today there are large numbers of colleges with good faculty, so faculty probably isn't the explanation for the advantage at the top," says Caroline Hoxby, a Harvard Economist. "Probably there is not much difference between the quality of the faculty at Princeton and at Rutgers. But there's a lot of difference between the students at those places, and some of every person's education comes from interaction with other students."
Who they’re looking for
To stand a chance of getting in, the student should begin to consider these schools early in their schooling.
The earlier they begin to work and earn good grades, the stronger their chances of being admitted to these rigorous schools. Students need to demonstrate that they are at least in the top 5-10% of their class academically, and if possible should take advanced classes such as the A level or the IB to demonstrate their academic prowess.
As written in the admissions section of Yale’s website:
“Decade after decade, Yalies have set out to make our world better. We are looking for students we can help to become the leaders of their generation in whatever they wish to pursue.
As we carefully and respectfully review every application, two questions guide our admissions team: “Who is likely to make the most of Yale’s resources?” and “Who will contribute most significantly to the Yale community?””
What these schools are looking for are passionate students who have pushed themselves beyond the norm in the pursuit of what excites them.
Whether this be a dedicated scientist, inspired by a specific piece of cutting edge research they have come across and therefore interning at a laboratory during their summer holidays, or a burgeoning politician who has dedicated hours to preparing for Model United Nations debates and also started a school news website, the student needs to be able to show they are exceptionally driven.